And the band played on is a true story published in 1987 that illustrates the AIDS epidemic. The AIDS outbreak started in this book around the 1970’s and is still around in today’s society. Randy Shilts wrote this book in order to show the many errors that occurred and killed while trying to find what this virus was and how it was spread. Many people during this time were affected by this virus especially in New York and San-Francisco, which is where most of this story takes place. AIDS which is also known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome is being spread fast after the first known account discovered by the CDC, and is extremely difficult to identify. Shilts discusses the many issues that could have saved thousands of lives throughout his investigative journalism. Some of the issues that effected many lives of the people living in the highly populated areas like New York and San-Francisco were the ethics of this complicated situation, the political issues that tagged along with this multitude, and the medical issues in determining the problem and solution of the epidemic.
And the band played on had many cultural issues taking place all over heavily populated areas like San-Francisco. One of which is the fact that after this virus became better known by the public, but not by everyone. At first, it was only being published in articles mostly only read by the gay community. During the 1980’s being gay was much different than in today’s society. It was especially harder for gay men and women during this time because people who were homosexual were treated as outcasts and alienated. San-Francisco and New York City became heavily populated with homosexuals.
The higher populations of gays in these areas made it easier for them to cope because they dealt with less criticism. This made the AIDS epidemic more prevalent in these areas due to the fact that it was being spread mainly through gays. When AIDS started killing more and more people, the general public became aware of the outbreak. Because of the lack of knowledge of the nature of this virus it was not given a specific name. at first AIDS was being called gay cancer due to the fact that people were unaware of how it was actually spread. This made the prejudice against gays much more prevalent just about everywhere. This was making it very difficult on the political side of the AIDS issue.
The politics surrounding the AIDS epidemic in And the Band Played On was a complicated issue. The issue being that it was surrounded by the gay population making it a touchy subject for most. Even newly elected president Ronald Reagan would not talk about the issue publically for the fact that it might hurt his status as the president of the United States of America. Ronald Reagan’s policies were to cut government spending, which included the spending of the much needed CDC at the time. The CDC lost a lot of money that could have helped immensely in the research to counteract the spread of aids. Many doctors and scientists refused to work on such an issue. For example, the blood bank officials were not at all convinced by the CDC’s findings of the blood being tainted from AIDS patients. Many AIDS patients were donating blood, and even though the blood is filtered and tested for diseases there were cases popping up of babies contracting the AIDS virus. The blood bank officials knew that people who received their blood were getting AIDS, but did not put a stop to blood draws from infected patients.
The officials were more concerned about themselves and their business then the lives of people that were receiving their blood. The blood banks were not the only businesses that were disregarding the lives of others. Shilts also discusses how the bath house business in the heavily populated areas was another key player in the political battle that cost many people their lives. The CDC discovered that gay bath houses were where many gays were contracting the disease. Many people would come and go in these bath houses just for sexual interaction. Sex in these bath houses was spreading the AIDS virus like wildfire. The CDC had no absolute proof yet that the virus was being spread sexually at the time. The bath house owners made a lot of revenue in areas like San-Francisco which made it highly unlikely for them to listen to the CDC about the public health issues that surrounded their business. Many bath house owners cared for only themselves and the money they were making, just like blood banks.
The CDC needed definitive proof showing that this is where the majority of the virus was being spread before the executive director of public health would shut them down. Even the public health director was worried about jeopardizing his status if he shut these bath houses without definitive proof that it was being spread there which could take years to prove. Taking more time to prove this would cost many more people their lives. In the book Shilts says, “some said Ronald Reagan would be remembered in history books for one thing beyond all else: He was the man who had let AIDS rage through America, the leader of the government that when challenged to action had placed politics above the health of the American people.” It is easy to put the blame on one person for a nationwide epidemic, but in the end it was not just president Ronald Reagan that let the AIDS virus run ramped throughout the nation. Although Regan’s promise of a grant to the CDC never was received, this problem was not just fueled by the president, businesses small and big, and gay activists that did not want their bath houses shut down even though they knew the dangers behind them only aided the outbreak.
Not only were these issues caused from them but even scientists and doctors. The medical issues in determining the problem and solution of the epidemic were doctors and Scientists that were competing to find the cause of this virus, and mainly competing to identify the virus. If they can identify the virus they will be able to test for it. The CDC discovered that they could test for it but with only a marginal accuracy. This idea of testing for AIDS only to certain accuracy made it difficult to mandate the testing, especially in the blood banks. American Doctor, Dr. Gallo was contacted by the CDC and told of this new virus that was killing many gays and decided that he would help research this virus. Meanwhile the French are also studying the strange new virus. As these scientists and team of doctors are trying to solve the mystery of the AIDS virus they realize the importance of it after the amount of death it has caused has reach new heights when death numbers increase quickly passed the thousands.
Both parties of scientists realize that if they discover the aids virus they may be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Just like the blood banks and the owners of the bath houses, Dr. Gallo and the French no longer cared about the lives of the people, but only for themselves and their own personal gain. In the end this almost delayed the discovery of AIDS due to the fact that both research centers had discovered it, but Dr. Gallo claimed that he had discovered it first. This almost caused the French to sue Dr. Gallo which would have made the ordeal even longer causing more deaths that could have been avoided. Another medical issue that could have saved lives was the grant that president Regan promised the CDC for research that they never received. If they would have got this grant money the issue with Dr. Gallo and the French could have been avoided. The CDC could have used this grant money to buy the proper technology to study this virus and find it themselves, which in turn could have saved lives.
In And the Band Played On there are many things that Randy Shilts Expresses that could have saved many lives. He wrote this book to bring light to the fact that the AIDS epidemic was ignored and not taken seriously. There are many issues Shilts brings up in his book that could have helped avoid the many complications that were faced during the AIDS breakout. Shilts sheds light on how this epidemic was poorly resolved. Although he does not explain the ways these errors should have been handled, he lets the reader decide on how these mistakes could have been treated. The thousands of lives taken from the aids epidemic could have been avoided, or at least less then what it was. For example, Regan could have been more proactive in the fight against AIDS rather than ignoring it completely due the fact that it was a touchy subject. He was more worried about his status as a president if he addressed this issue. Shilts brings up the politics surrounding the AIDS epidemic when he talks about the blood banks. The politics surrounding the blood banks allowed many people to contract the AIDS virus knowingly. If the blood bank officials would have cared less about themselves and more about the public health, hundreds of deaths could have been avoided. Another large amount of deaths was caused from the politics around the issue of the spreading of the AIDS virus in bath houses. The bath house owners neglected the public’s health for their own benefit.
The bath house owners cared for no one else but themselves and the money they were making. The medical problems they had with finding the AIDS virus also cost many lives. Dr. Gallo and the French battled against each other in order to find the virus when they should have been working together. Also, the grant money the CDC was promised never arrived which could have cost many lives because they might have been able to find it sooner than Dr. Gallo or the French. Ethics, politics, and medical issues caused thousands of deaths that could have been avoided. History usually repeats itself, and Shilts wrote this book in order to prevent another massive tragedy like the AIDS epidemic from happening again.
Courtney from Study Moose
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